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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

June 27, 2013

Meaningful Messages

meaningful messagesI think one of the points missing in our English textbooks and lessons is the concept of “meaningful messages”. Children are not interested in learning phrases because it will be good for them in the future. Their concerns are with the immediate present, the moment, now; they are naturally interested in words or phrases, which will help them navigate themselves through a social situation. Therefore, I think the language we teach them should focus more on the ever-expanding present. This may mean modifying your lessons and content to a degree, but I think it will be well worth the investment.

The language we teach them should focus more on the ever-expanding present

Children can master simple phrases easily if they are presented and recycled naturally in a positive atmosphere. For example, when students enter the room, I suggest the teacher stand at the door and welcome each child individually using a simple, friendly phrase with eye contact and a smile:

“How are you?”
“Please come in.”
“Please give me your homework.”

Or higher-level students can ask at the door:

“Hello. May I come in?”
The teacher can reply with, “Did you do your homework?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Please come in.”

We always have music playing on the CD player when the students enter the room. When the lesson is about to begin, a student is requested to “turn the CD player off” as the teacher motions to the CD player. This is not a phrase the class has studied so no one knows the term “turn off”. But because we are in the moment, the student sees the teacher pointing to the CD player and understands that the class is about to begin; he/she can imagine what is being asked, and the CD player gets turned off. The teacher thanks the student. I am sure the student feels satisfaction and gratification that he/she could accomplish this request from the teacher in English. As this happens weekly, it is recycled, and everyone eventually learns the phrase “Please turn the CD player off” without studying it.

As students complete their homework or a written task, they hand it in saying, “Here you are.” Again, this is a very simple phrase, which fits perfectly for the action. Of course, the teacher responds with “Thank you” or “Good job.”

While taking attendance, the students say, “Here” or “He is absent/She is absent.” It is not necessary to teach them the meaning of “here” or “absent” because they can figure it out from the situation. They are not taught that “he” is used for boys and “she” is used for girls. We just use those pronouns the first time a student is absent as the class repeats after the teacher, “She is absent.” Since this scenario is repeated every week, they figure it out themselves and understand it from experience.

One of our class activities is for the students to write their names on a special student blackboard. The teacher gestures for the student to walk over to the blackboard and says, “Write your name,” after which the student may hear the phrase, “Good job.”

The same strategy applies for when students leave the classroom. The teacher can stand at the door and ask a simple question or make a complimentary comment to each student with eye contact before saying, “See you next time.”

We are talking about simple phrases, but they are “meaningful messages” used during appropriate moments because they work/connect to the immediate social situation. Children like putting two and two together as a result of receiving signals from the teacher. In most cases the two signals are simple phrases accompanied by an easily understood gesture at the right time. In addition, students get instant gratification knowing that English “works” for them. I encourage you to incorporate as many meaningful messages into your lessons as you can; I guarantee it will prove pleasurable for you and your students.

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Great stuff! I do some of the ideas expressed here by myself; such as turning up or down the volume on the CD player by asking students "May I ...?/ Can I ...? I will let my students take turns to do that from now on. I can't wait to see their joy and reactions. Definitely awesome! I will run with it.

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